“Hope you don’t mind waiting for me at the top of the hills; I barely slept last night.” “Well, you won’t have to worry about me—I haven’t ridden much this spring, so you’ll have to take it easy on me.”
Some variation of this conversation happens nearly every time two or more cyclists meet to ride.
Everyone does it —including me—and I understand why. It’s fear, plain and simple. Everyone, from the rank beginner to the Grand Tour winner, worries that we won’t look good when the road turns upward or the pace picks up. As a psychotherapist, I’m aware that self-image problems are as common as dirt in every walk of life. On some level, maybe they should be excused.
But me, I’ve been trying to winnow it out of my ride conversations. Excuses are tiresome and, whether true or not, they undermine us.
No one but me cares if I’m the last one up the hill, wheezing and sweating like a chain smoker, while the others wait in the cool shade of a maple tree. I’m busy guessing at the unflattering, permanent conclusions they’re drawing about me; they’re deep in a discussion about their latest pair of tires. So, I’m making myself miserable for nothing.
Also, because I make them out of fear, excuses are often wrong. I often end up riding better than the person I was complaining to. This leaves the other person to conclude either a) they need a bunch of excuses for their riding, or b) that I was sandbagging (lowering expectations just so I could exceed them) and that I’m a jerk.
So far? Very little upside to excuses.
Perhaps the most important point, though, is that every rider on the road on any given day has challenges. Some of them are crushingly legit. I rode today with a guy who, a few years ago, rode into a head-on crash with a car. He was half-alive for months before his rehab actually started; he’s dealing with a traumatic brain injury and who knows how many physical problems. Not only can’t he work, he often can’t remember what someone said to him ten minutes ago. Yet he rode every vomitous hill I did and didn’t complain once.
I didn’t feel much like making excuses around him.
Lately, my strategy when it comes to alibis is to wait and see how things shuffle out by about 40 minutes in to the ride. If I still feel awful and am doing poorly, it’s fair to take a little air time for my woes; that’s part of the camaraderie you should expect from ride partners.
I try to keep to direct statements like, “Man, I’m feeling it today,” because veiled excuses are the worst of all. No one wants to hear me humble-bragging about the monster ride I did yesterday when they’re struggling up a massive climb. And then, I try to leave it at that, even if I don’t improve. This is where I fall down most frequently; often, I’ll sneak a bunch more comments or just plain groans in. I’ve got a ways to go on all this.
But I’m not trying to quit because it makes me a “better” person, and certainly not because I want to seem tough or macho. I’m doing it because talking about how crappy I feel today is discouraging for everyone, including me. There’s a long tradition in cycling of just “riding your ride.” You certainly shouldn’t flaunt success, but neither should you ask others to bolster your ego. If you’ve been doing this for long enough, you know that what goes around comes around, and next weekend, you might well be the one off the front.
So, if you’re out riding with me and you hear me commenting loudly about how my allergies are clobbering me, do me a favor: pat me on the back, and gently remind me to ride my ride.